Home' Independence : Independence Vol 31 No 2 Nov 2006 Contents Independence Volume 31 No. 2 7
The fiduciary mode is the traditional,
most familiar role of a board. In fiduciary
mode the board fulfils its custodial
function as stewards of the tangible
assets of the school, monitor of its legal
and financial integrity and overseer of
regulatory compliance and the school's
fidelity to mission.
In strategic mode the board thinks and
acts like a comprehensive management
consulting firm. It views the school in the
context of its external environment and is
aware of market forces and competitors.
In partnership with senior management
it develops, reviews and modifies the
school's strategic plan and monitors
performance against it.
When we think generatively we are sifting,
weighing and stitching together lots of
cues and clues in order to make sense of
circumstances. We are in generative mode
when we are asking, What is happening
here? How do I understand the larger
picture? Boards must operate in generative
mode to engage in meaning-making
and problem-framing when confronting
challenges that are rooted in values,
traditions and beliefs.
In fiduciary mode we ask, Is there a
problem? In strategic mode the question
is, What's the plan? In generative mode
we ask, What's the question?
Take for example the case of a K-12
girls' school with boarding facilities
recruiting a new principal. In the 75-year
history of the school the headmistress
has always lived on campus, but now the
top candidate for the position and first
choice of the selection committee wants
to live at some distance from the school
to suit the demands of her husband's
career and so that one of her teenage
children who has special needs can
continue to attend the school in which
he is settled and happy.
This is not an issue that can be solved
with technical expertise, that is, by
bringing in an accountant or a lawyer
or some other professional. This is an
issue that has multiple interpretations
and implications. Is it about ending
an important tradition? Is it about
recognising the rights of women?
What is the message about values the
school wants to send out?
When there is an issue for which there
is not an obvious single right answer,
or where there is difficulty in getting
agreement about what the question
is, then there is a high probability
it is a generative issue or has
Working in three modes
Generative thinking is not the answer
to every question or crisis. It certainly
does not replace fiduciary and strategic
thinking, but nor is it just for special
occasions. It is in generative mode that
the board gets to make meaning before
making strategy and has the opportunity
to contribute before issues are framed.
In generative mode the board gets to
decide what problems to address, not
what solutions to impose.
It is helpful to envisage the three modes
of governance as a curve -- what we have
termed the 'generative curve'.
At the top of the generative curve
-- or 'upstream' -- issues are looming,
intriguing, still ambiguous, not yet
converted into action plans. At this point
on the curve boards are concerned with
questions of organisational culture, values
and traditions. Further downstream it is
technical expertise that counts.
Upstream the sensitivity of board
members to the school really matters.
In fiduciary mode we
ask, Is there a problem?
In strategic mode the
question is, What's the
plan? In generative
mode we ask, What's
The generative curve
The opportunity to influence
generative work declines as issues
are framed and converted into
strategies, plans and actions.
Opportunity for generative work
Plans, tactics, execution
• Makes sense of circumstances
• Invites prior questions, alternative
• Puts perceived problems/
opportunities in new light
• Finds and frames new problems
• Concerns values, beliefs, and
• Spawns policy, strategy, and
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